We knew we needed and wanted some additional surveillance of foreign contacts to fight the war on terror after 911 but surely not this. The Patriot Act, itself openly and fully repugnant to the United States Constitution and our Fourth Amendment right to privacy and First Amendment right to free speech and expression has spawned such a gargantuan National Security State that it is unclear who is spying on whom. The programs include such massive domestic spying on Americans that it makes a mockery of are supposed rperesentative democracy and the human rights we seek.
What is certain is the American people are not being served well by the more than 750,000 persons and tens of billions of dollars employed every year to gather information to combat terrorism.
The Guardian newspaper has released a legal court order from a FISA court, a Federal Court that is under the Federal Intelligence Security Act. It shows that the National Security Agency (NSA) received routine permission to sweep up the phone records of Verizon’s customers whether or not they have any ties to terror or are completely innocent. There is no probable cause here. It is a huge, though admittedly well-ordered fishing expedition to try and unearth connections between identified terror suspects overseas and contacts here at home.
Then less than twenty four hours later that same newspaper has revealed through an intelligence officer who was so appalled by the Federal Government’s invasion of our privacy and civil rights that he or she leaked a copy of a lengthy Powerpoint presentation on a new security data mining program called PRISM. Nine of the largest internet companies such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, and the list goes on “assisted” our government in looking through our e-mails, Facebook pages, Skypes and as the officer says, has the ability to watch us “form our ideas as we type.” The PRISM program enters the servers used by these and other companies and gets whatever information is out there that it may want.
The most honorable and courageous vote cast in Congress in the 21st Century was cast by then Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. He voted “NO” on the original authorization of the Patriot Act back in the panic days of 2001. His was the lone “NAY” vote while ninety-eight other senators did the easy thing and voted “YEA.” That legislation was reauthorized in 2006 and 2011 despite persistent reports from senators who had access to Senate and House Intelligence Committee briefings or who were able to investigate what our National Security State was doing to us.
Before you get all revved up to attack President Obama or the Democrats, Struggles for Justice must state for the record and factually that the expansion of the security state and its power to spy on us has been authorized by a bi-partisan majority since 911 properly horrified a nation but also made us crazy as the Gods intent on destroying us would say.
We did this to ourselves quite nicely thank you. If you must go smack yourself in the face and heap extreme rhetorical vituperation aimed directly at yourself, go ahead. Once finished, take a deep breath and stop the bleeding and settle down. For this is a scandal we are all involved in.
Most of us sensed our Government was going too far in spying on us to catch those who would do us harm but yet we let this continue as we were very properly still in shock from the 911 attacks. But some of us have been warning of this for years but blogs like Struggles for Justice do not have access to intelligence briefings regularly provided the President or the appropriate Congressional oversight committees. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other similar liberty groups (some on the political Right) have been active in standing up for us for years. There have been some victories but they have been few.
We can celebrate the fact that on this one liberal-left members of the Democrats and Tea Party leaders like Rand Paul have it right. This stuff is patently unconstitutional and must cease.
Part of what this is has to do with is our getting far enough away from 911 to finally have some perspective. The increasingly close examination of the Drone Strike program and a film opening this weekend around the nation in artsy movie houses called Dirty Wars and a book by the same name by Jeremy Scahill really tells us what Scahill told an MSNBC interviewer today that we have reached a point “where we don’t even know who we are attacking.” And that being true we really don’t even know why anymore.
It truly is Spy vs. Spy these days and who is to say who is spying on whom? What is certain is that your privacy and freedom of speech and expression just went right out the window. It is time to revisit our entire war on terror and scale back the crazy stuff and leave in the essential stuff. Just what is essential must come from a national conversation on the issue and NOW, along with Congressional bi-partisan legislation to protect our liberties.
And there must be far more transparency about what is being done in our name all over the world in these little secret dirty wars, and all this data mining that has reached such massive proportions that those it seeks to protect are themselves becoming the victims. We are defeating ourselves here. For example, it would be good to know how many requests have been submitted to FISA courts and how many of those have been approved and denied and among those denied, generally on what basis. At present there is no score card at all so we don’t know what kind of job the FISA Court is doing to turn down requests repugnant to the Constitution.
It is becoming very clear that the FISA Court, itself meeting entirely in secret, is almost like the old Star Chamber in England. They really are not accountable to anybody. They’ve become a rubber stamp operation for the National Security State. Our Government was able to do all this in an environment of fear and xenophobia that created a highly permissive situation vis-a-vis national security.
Technically, all of this is likely legal under the Patriot Act and other legislation granting the government more authority to spy and collect information. President Obama has continued much of the Bush-Cheney over the top security stuff and a full review is long overdue.
The President promised a full review upon taking office in 2009 and he hinted at taking a long hard look at this in a recent speech this spring on National Security.We must demand that our government respect our Constitutional rights as citizens. This is an issue that affects all Americans no matter what their other political views or party loyalties are. That’s how you can get Russ Feingold and Rand Paul on the same page with this.
Otherwise it will be more Spy vs. Spy and the joke is on us.